Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts

Video Lectures

Displaying all 25 video lectures.
Lecture 1
General Introduction
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General Introduction
Professor Wrightson provides an introduction to the course. He briefly discusses the main features of the political and social landscape of early modern England and then summarizes the broad social and structural changes that occurred during the period. Professor Wrightson offers some thoughts on the nature of history and the study of history and focuses, in particular, on the benefits of studying the history of early modern England. He notes that the history of Britain in this period affected many other nations, such as early America and Canada, as well as later colonies such as those in Africa and India, and that studying these events helps us to better understand ourselves in time and contextualize many of the features of modern society that we take for granted.
Lecture 2

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"The Tree of Commonwealth": The Social Order in the Sixteenth Century
Professor Wrightson provides a broad sketch of the social order of early modern England, focusing on the hierarchical language of "estates" and "degrees" and the more communitarian ideal of the "commonwealth" by which society was organized. The differences between the social structure in rural and urban areas are addressed and the subordinate roles of women and the young are also outlined. Professor Wrightson discusses the differences between members of peerage, the gentry, and the commonalty and the social positions of servants, yeoman, husbandmen, and apprentices are explained. The mechanisms by which the social order was preserved, such as prescriptive literature and ecclesiastical injunctions, are also considered. Professor Wrightson concludes that, while in the theory the social order was rigidly hierarchical and rooted in relationships of authority and subordination, in practice there was a great more flexibility and ambiguity within every day interpersonal social relationships.

Reading assignment:
Wrightson, English Society, chapter 1
Lecture 3
Households: Structures, Priorities, Strategies, Roles
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Households: Structures, Priorities, Strategies, Roles
Professor Wrightson lectures on the structures of households in early modern England. Differentiating between urban and rural households, the households of great lords and those of yeoman, husbandmen, and craftsmen, the varying structures and compositions of households are discussed. The process by which households were established, courtship and marriage, are addressed. Stressing the various ways in which early modern households differed from modern notions of the home, Professor Wrightson analyzes the roles played by individuals within them. The positions occupied by women and the array of tasks that they were expected to perform in furtherance of the household economy receive detailed attention, as do the experiences of children. Professor Wrightson discusses the manner in which households could be affected by external crises, such as plague or harvest failure, and touches on the strategies and steps employed by householders to ensure survival of this important unit.

Reading assignment:
Wrightson, English Society, chapters 3-4
Lecture 4
Communities: Key Institutions and Relationships
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Communities: Key Institutions and Relationships
Professor Wrightson begins by discussing how modern perceptions of the "traditional" community have informed the manner in which the early modern social landscape is discussed. From here he moves on to address the lived reality of community and social bonds in the period. The roles that the intertwined ideas of lordship and tenancy, custom, neighborliness and social "credit" played in rural manors and parishes are examined, as are urban institutions like the guilds, and relationships of kinship more generally. Professor Wrightson argues that the social bonds of community and neighborliness were indeed key features of early modern society and could occupy a pivotal position in people's lives, but also warns that communities could also be restrictive and riven by conflicts and tensions. While recognizing the importance of bonds of mutual obligation, we must not sentimentalize them.

Reading assignment:
Wrightson, English Society, Chapter 2
Lecture 5

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"Countries" and Nation: Social and Economic Networks and the Urban System
Professor Wrightson discusses local particularism and regionalism in early modern England and highlights the importance of local customs and economic patterns. He then focuses on the manner in which these local areas, while enjoying a measure of cultural, institutional, and economic autonomy, were simultaneously integrated into a larger national whole. The role of trade (both between English regions and with the Continent via the Netherlands), the importance of market towns within the localities as nexuses of social and economic interaction, the place of 'provincial capitals,' and the pivotal position of the metropolis of London are all considered. Throughout the lecture Professor Wrightson also provides details of early modern regional topography and information concerning the role of urban areas in early modern social and economic life.

Reading assignment:
Slack, "The English Urban Landscape"
Lecture 6
The Structures of Power
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The Structures of Power
Professor Wrightson begins by discussing recent trends in English political history, which has expanded from focusing solely on institutions to include analysis of political culture. After this, the formal institutions of government, such as the various law courts, the offices of royal administration, and Parliament, are briefly defined and situated. In the remainder of the lecture, Professor Wrightson explores the dynamics of royal power and authority. The impact of the personalities of Henry VII and Henry VIII on their individual reigns are noted and their relationships with the nobility are focused upon. Professor Wrightson addresses the manner in which the early Tudor kings solidified and extended royal authority through the uses of propaganda, patronage, consultations, and coercion. He ends by signaling the expansion of government which was to occur post-1530 as a result of the issues of the succession and religious change.

Reading assignment:
Gunn, Early Tudor Government, chapter 1
Lecture 7
Late Medieval Religion and Its Critics
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Late Medieval Religion and Its Critics
In this lecture Professor Wrightson surveys the religious landscape of England during the later medieval period through to the reign of Henry VIII and the beginnings of the reformation. He notes that while the late medieval church was more vibrant and popular than many early triumphal analysis of the reformation allowed for, there were, nonetheless, critics of Catholicism within England. He traces the earlier opposition to the church as arising from three primary groups: those educated clerics and laymen who desired reform within the church, the small pockets of Lollards within England who opposed traditional religion, and the group of people influenced by European reformation thought who would later work to implement doctrinal change within the Church of England. Professor Wrightson also provides an analysis of late medieval piety and the role that the traditional church played in people's daily lives at the local level prior to the reformation.

Reading assignment:
Haigh, English Reformations, prologue and chapters 1-3
Lecture 8
Reformation and Division, 1530-1558
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Reformation and Division, 1530-1558
Professor Wrightson examines the various stages of the reformation in England, beginning with the legislative, as opposed to doctrinal, reformation begun by Henry VIII in a quest to settle the Tudor succession. Wrightson shows how the jurisdictional transformation of the royal supremacy over the church resulted, gradually, in the introduction of true religious change. The role played by various personalities at Henry's court, and the manner in which the King's own preferences shaped the doctrines of the Church of England, are considered. Doctrinal change, in line with continental Protestant developments, accelerated under Edward VI, but was reversed by Mary I. However, Wrightson suggests that, by this time, many aspects of Protestantism had been internalized by part of the English population, especially the young, and so the reformation could not wholly be undone by Mary's short reign. The lecture ends with the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558, an event which presaged further religious change.

Reading assignment:
Haigh, English Reformations, chapters 5-7 and 9-13
Lecture 9

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"Commodity" and "Commonwealth": Economic and Social Problems, 1520-1560
Professor Wrightson surveys the changing economic landscape of early modern England in the early sixteenth century. He notes that, throughout the period, population levels rose and, at the same time, inflation caused a rise in prices, and real wages fell. While many landowners were able to raise rents on their lands and profit from enclosing land, and many yeoman farmers prospered, these trends also resulted in a measure of social dislocation and a growth in poverty and vagrancy. Moral outrage at these developments was voiced by the so-called Commonwealth's Men, and popular discontent resulted in large scale rebellions, such as the Pilgrimage of Grace and Kett's Rebellion. Professor Wrightson ends by discussing the economic thought of Sir Thomas Smith, which influenced government initiatives to combat these problems.
Lecture 10
The Elizabethan Confessional State: Conformity, Papists and Puritans
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The Elizabethan Confessional State: Conformity, Papists and Puritans
Professor Wrightson discusses the Elizabethan settlement of religion and the manner in which it was defended from both "Papist" and "Puritan" opponents. The settlement of religion achieved in 1559 (and enforced through the Act of Uniformity) restored the royal supremacy, but was in some respects deliberately ambiguous, combining moderately Protestant doctrine with traditional forms of worship and church government. It was designed to minimize the danger of religious conflict by appealing to traditionalists as well as convinced Protestants. From the 1570s, however, the settlement came under attack from both Catholics and Puritans (the "hotter sort of Protestants" dissatisfied with the limits of the Elizabethan reformation). Wrightson describes how both threats were countered and defeated, while the Church of England gradually became normalized and accepted by the population as a whole.

Reading assignment:
Haigh, English Reformations, chapters 14-16
Lecture 11
The Elizabethan
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The Elizabethan "Monarchical Republic": Political Participation
In this lecture Professor Wrightson provides an overview of central political issues of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. He discusses the Queen's personal character and identity-forming experiences (and the challenges posed by her gender), the manner in which she interacted with her political advisors (notably William Cecil) and addresses the foreign and domestic crises which impacted her rule (such as the ongoing threat posed by the claims of Mary, Queen of Scots to the English throne and England's increasingly tense relationship with Spain). In particular, Professor Wrightson highlights the shifts in political culture which occurred during the period, as ideas concerning political participation and the role of institutions such as Parliament expanded. He introduces Patrick Collinson's notion of the Elizabethan regime as something of a "monarchical republic," with the Queen exercising power in cooperation with political stakeholders whose ideas about governance were informed by both their Protestant convictions and classical political principles.



Reading assignment:

Guy, The Tudor Monarchy

- Chapter 4: Collinson, "The Monarchial Republic of Queen Elizabeth I"

- Chapter 14: Elton, "Tudor Government: The Points of Contact I, the Parliament"
Lecture 12
Economic Expansion, 1560-1640
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Economic Expansion, 1560-1640

Professor Wrightson traces the major economic expansion of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Despite occasional crises of mortality, population levels rose steadily, particularly in urban areas. Increased population levels resulted in enhanced agricultural and industrial output. Professor Wrightson reviews the extension of the cultivated area, forms of agricultural improvement and trends in enclosure. He then examines urban growth, the expansion of traditional industries such as cloth-making, and the development of new ones such as coal production. He ends by discussing the intensification of internal commerce and the expansion in foreign trade which took place during the Despite economic expansion and a greatly increased national income, however, prices continued to rise, real wages remained depressed, and the problem of poverty appears to have grown.

Reading assignment:
Wrightson, English Society, chapter 5

Lecture 13
A Polarizing Society, 1560-1640
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A Polarizing Society, 1560-1640
Professor Wrightson reviews the consequences of the economic and population changes discussed in the last lecture. While economic shifts allowed some members of English society, especially members of the gentry and the land-holding classes, to increase their wealth, they also (coupled with an expanding population and price inflation) resulted in the growth of poverty and vagrancy. Professor Wrightson discusses the relative wealth and economic pressures faced by various segments of the early modern population (providing specific examples) and suggests that, while society was becoming increasingly polarized between the poor and the wealthy, there was also a third group, the 'middling sort,' who were expanding in numbers and influence. Professor Wrightson concludes by touching on the rising levels of poverty in the period and government responses to it (culminating in the passage of the Poor Laws), as well as very real human element in these larger social and economic processes.

Reading assignment:
Slack, Poverty and Policy in Tudor and Stuart England, chapters 3-5
Lecture 14
Witchcraft and Magic
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Witchcraft and Magic
In this lecture, Professor Wrightson discusses witchcraft and magic. He begins with the context of magic beliefs in this period, introducing the "cunning folk" who had reputations as healers and were often consulted. He then considers the specific problem of witchcraft, the use of magic to do harm, and its identification by the late medieval church as a form of anti-Christian cult. He examines the distinctive nature of both witchcraft beliefs and the history of witchcraft prosecution in England (as compared with both Scotland and continental Europe), outlining the typical circumstances of a witchcraft accusation and what these might suggest about the rise and fall of concern with witchcraft. Finally he considers a number of unresolved problems in the history of witchcraft in England: the nature of the links between gender and witchcraft; the reasons behind the passage of the statutes defining witchcraft as a crime; and the exceptionally large number of trials conducted in the county of Essex.

Reading assignment:
Reay, Popular Cultures, chapter 4
Lecture 15
Crime and the Law
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Crime and the Law
In this lecture Professor Wrightson examines the problem of order in early modern society, focusing on crimes of violence and upon property crime. In examining violence, he notes the existence of special cases geographically (the borderlands) and socially (aristocratic violence) before looking at the lower (and gradually declining) levels of homicide in general. He then considers property crime, distinguishing the various categories of theft and the manner in which cases were brought to, and handled in, the courts. The late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries witnessed a peak in prosecution, but while the law could be harsh and bloody in meting out punishment, it was also characterized by discretionary extension of mercy. Interpretations of the use of such discretion are compared and assessed -- as are the limits that existed on its use in a society that believed in the deterrent effect of "exemplary punishment."

Reading assignment:
Wrightson, English Society, pp. 149-73
Lecture 16
Popular Protest
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Popular Protest

Professor Wrightson reviews the basic structures and aims of popular protest: notably food riots and agrarian disturbances. He notes that such disturbances were often surprisingly orderly affairs, rather than chaotic expressions of discontent. They aimed to defend traditional rights (rooted in custom) that participants felt were being threatened, either by food shortages or by agrarian changes such as enclosure. The forms taken by such events reveal a coherent moral order. Professor Wrightson reviews the tactics employed by protestors and the ways in which they constituted attempts to negotiate with authority. Official responses were often equally restrained, although the government was capable in some situations of displaying real severity. He concludes by noting that these forms of early modern popular protest were fundamentally political in nature, and that while agrarian resistance gradually subsided, these defenses of popular custom and rights influenced early forms of labor organization from the late seventeenth century onwards.

Reading assignment:
Wrightson, English Society, pp. 173-82
Reay, Popular Cultures, chapter 6

Lecture 17
Education and Literacy
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Education and Literacy
Professor Wrightson begins by assessing the state of education in the late medieval period and then discusses the two cultural forces (Renaissance humanism and the Reformation) which lie behind the educational expansion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. While there were distinct hierarchies of learning in the period (with women and the lower orders having far fewer educational opportunities open to them than other members of the social order), this was genuinely a revolutionary period in terms of education. Attendance at the universities and the Inns of Court expanded exponentially, educational ideals for the elite were transformed, standards of clerical education reached unprecedented heights, grammar schools and petty schools were founded across the country and, by the end of the period, literacy levels in the population were much higher. England was now a partially literate society and was well on its way to achieving mass literacy. A threshold had been crossed, and this shift had far-reaching cultural and political effects.

Reading assignment:
Wrightson, English Society, pp. 183-99
Reay, Popular Cultures, chapter 2
Lecture 18
Street Wars of Religion: Puritans and Arminians
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Street Wars of Religion: Puritans and Arminians
Professor Wrightson reviews the conflicts which developed within the Church of England in the early seventeenth century and played a role in the growing tensions which led to the English civil wars. Wrightson begins by describing the "Jacobethan consensus" which largely prevailed throughout the reign of James I, characterized by broad-based conformity and adherence to Calvinist doctrine. However, this consensus was strained by the local activism of Puritans in many areas. The success of these Puritan efforts at local reformation was uneven across the country and largely depended on whether Puritan clerics were able to secure the support of secular magistrates in order to enforce godly discipline. He next considers the Arminian movement (anti-Calvinist in doctrine and with strong elements of ritualism and clericalism) which destroyed the Jacobethan consensus. He traces how the rise of Arminianism resulted in the polarization and politicization of religion with Charles I's appointment of Arminian clerics (notably William Laud) to positions of control of the church and their repression of Puritan opponents.

Reading assignment:
Cust, The English Civil War, chapter 5
Collinson, Birthpangs of Protestant England, chapter 5
Lecture 19
Crown and Political Nation, 1604-1640
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Crown and Political Nation, 1604-1640
Professor Wrightson reviews the events leading up to the outbreak of the English civil wars and assesses the various historiographical interpretations that have been advanced to explain the war. He notes that while it is essential to appreciate the various long-term causes of the conflict, we must also recognize the role of contingency in the period leading up to the war. He then describes tensions between the crown and the political nation under James I and Charles I with particular attention to the role of the Duke of Buckingham, growing dissatisfaction with royal policy and the increasingly acrimonious tone of parliaments in the 1620s. The fresh start represented by the period of "personal rule" 1629-40 is then considered, with an emphasis on the anxiety aroused by royal financial expedients (notably Ship Money) and religious policy. He ends with the violent response to the attempt by Charles I and Laud to impose prayer book worship on the Scottish church, which triggered the collapse of Charles attempt to rule without calling parliament.

Reading assignment:
Kishlansky, Monarchy Transformed, chapters 3-5
Lecture 20
Constitutional Revolution and Civil War, 1640-1646
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Constitutional Revolution and Civil War, 1640-1646
Professor Wrightson begins his examination of the major events of the English Civil Wars which culminated ultimately with the defeat of the royalist forces and the execution of King Charles I in 1649. He describes how Charles was forced to end his personal rule and call a parliament in 1640 in order to defend England against invading Scottish armies. The events of the Short Parliament and the first sessions of the Long Parliament are examined, culminating in the outbreak of war in 1642. The composition of both royalist and parliamentarian support is discussed, followed by the war aims and strategies of the two sides and the campaigns and politics of 1642-44, leading eventually to the formation of the New Model Army under the leadership of Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell. He concludes with the victory of parliamentary forces in 1645-1646.

Reading assignment:
Kishlansky, Monarchy Transformed, pp. 134-70
Lecture 21
Regicide and Republic, 1647-1660
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Regicide and Republic, 1647-1660
In this lecture Professor Wrightson considers the events leading to the execution of Charles I in 1649, and the republican regimes of 1649-60 (the Commonwealth and the Protectorate), with particular attention to the role of Oliver Cromwell. He begins with the unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a settlement with Charles I after the civil war, the intervention of the army in 1647 and the outbreak of the second civil war in 1648, which culminated in Pride's Purge and the trial and execution of Chares I. He then considers Cromwell's campaigns in 1649-51, his expulsion of the Rump Parliament in 1653, the nominated parliament of 1653 (Barebone's Parliament) and the two phases of the Cromwellian Protectorate 1654-8, ending with the instability following Cromwell's death and the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Professor Wrightson notes that although the Restoration marked the failure of the revolution, the political landscape had been irrevocably changed. The restored monarchy lived in the shadow of the civil war, the politicization of a large section of society was not reversed, religious dissent was now a permanent reality, and a plethora of new political and religious ideas had been advanced.

Reading assignment:
Kishlansky, Monarchy Transformed, pp. 170-222
Lecture 22
An Unsettled Settlement: The Restoration Era, 1660-1688
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An Unsettled Settlement: The Restoration Era, 1660-1688
In this lecture Professor Wrightson discusses the Restoration settlement of 1660 and the reigns of Charles II and James II. He highlights the manner in which tensions between the crown and the political nation slowly escalated during Charles's reign (as a result of his attempts to grant religious toleration, unpopular wars against the Dutch and diplomatic alliances with France). Charles showed himself to be a shrewd politician and managed to contain these tensions, but the situation became increasingly fraught after the alleged "Popish Plot" precipitated the Exclusion Crisis of 1679-81 and the emergence of the Whig and Tory parties. Charles faced down the threat to his authority successfully. However, he was succeeded in 1685 by his openly Catholic brother James II, who proved politically inept and unable to build on Charles' success. Fears of James' catholicizing and absolutist intentions erupted in 1688 in the Glorious Revolution, when the Dutch leader William of Orange (husband of James' daughter Mary) was invited to intervene, leading in James' flight abroad and the offer of the crown to William and Mary.

Reading assignment:
Kishlansky, Monarchy Transformed, pp. 222-286
Lecture 23
England, Britain, and the World: Economic Development, 1660-1720
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England, Britain, and the World: Economic Development, 1660-1720
Professor Wrightson discusses the remarkable growth of the British economy in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. He examines the changed context of stable population and prices; regional agricultural specialization; urbanization; the expansion of overseas trade both with traditional European trading partners and with the Americas and the East; the growth of manufacturing industries which served both domestic and overseas markets, and the intensification of internal trade. He describes and explains the emergence of an increasingly closely articulated national market economy, closely linked to a nascent world economy in which Britain now played a core role.

Reading assignment:
Canny, The Oxford History of the British Empire: Origins of Empire, chapter 18
Lecture 24
Refashioning the State, 1688-1714
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Refashioning the State, 1688-1714
In this lecture, Professor Wrightson discusses the transformation of the English state in the twenty years following the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He examines the ambiguities of the Revolutionary Settlement which placed authority in William III and Mary II following the deposition/abdication of James II, and the manner in which parliamentary government was strengthened through responses to the demands of the wars precipitated by the revolution, culminating in the constitutional provisions of the Act of Settlement of 1701. Finally he considers the origins and outcomes of the 1707 Act of Union which fused the kingdoms of Scotland and England into the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and ends by briefly characterizing the paradoxical realities of the British state of 1714.

Reading assignment:
Brewer, The Sinews of Power, chapter 5
Lecture 25
Concluding Discussion and Advice on Examination
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Concluding Discussion and Advice on Examination
In this final lecture, Professor Wrightson reviews the major themes of the class through a reflection on the nature of the historical process. He explains how the developments traced in the course illustrate the complex and ambiguous nature of historical change and emphasizes the importance of studying history as a means of "understanding ourselves in time" through the disciplined recreation of the past in the present. He concludes by offering his thanks to the teaching fellows.